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Blogiessee: Why do we try to avoid having power?

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A few weeks back, we had some international guest speakers visiting us at Eventa. Our guests, originally sports coaches from the U.S.A and France, had an interesting remark about the Finnish society: most Finns don’t try to land in positions with power.  We look sideways to anyone that says that he or she aims to be better than his colleagues. Everyone should have the same capabilities and skills.

At first I thought it sounded odd. I couldn’t sympathize with the statement, of course a lot of people want to be leaders, just look at all the people studying leadership in the Universities and the different leadership-programs in big companies. Then I gave the idea a bit more thorough thought and surprised myself to find the statement true. We Finns see ourselves as one of the most equal countries of the world. We see ourselves so equal, that everyone is on the same level. And everyone has to stay on that same level. Anyone who tries to work their way to a higher position is seen as a threat to the whole concept of equality, as if when someone would climb those stairs he would also drag with him the baseline, making everyone else fall below it.

When’s the last time you have heard a Finnish ice hockey player say that “I want to be the best in the world” or “I am the best in the world”? Never. Even on the odd occasion that we actually won the World Championships, when asked the players would answer some humble nonsense about the teamwork and the victory just happening.  And that is our problem: We shun away from actively stating out our ambitions of power and instead just wait for the opportunities to fall into our hands.

Those that end up in the leadership and management positions are often terrified of using the power they have at their disposal. Using your power means that there is no way to roll the blame to someone else’s shoulders when something goes wrong. Being branded as the person that used their power to make a mistake is even worse. All the positive sides of having power and being able to use it to help people are so often overlooked, that we refer more often to “being responsible of something” than “being in charge of something”, as if we already had the mentality that the leader has to bear some blame.

What would it take for the Finnish people to learn to be proud of what they do and move heaven and earth to achieve it? What would it take to make ambition acceptable? Because that is what we already do, we just can’t talk about it.